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Apple Must Clean up Its Polluting Supply Chain – Starting With Foxconn

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Apple Must Clean up Its Polluting Supply Chain – Starting With Foxconn

Apple likes to brand itself as a climate hero, but one of its largest suppliers is a laggard on renewable energy – despite the many green options in China.

Apple Must Clean up Its Polluting Supply Chain – Starting With Foxconn
Credit: Depositphotos

In recent years, Apple has positioned itself as a climate leader. In 2020, the company declared that it had achieved carbon neutrality across its corporate operations, and last September, it released a short video in which Apple employees and CEO Tim Cook defended the company’s climate record to Mother Nature herself.

However, Apple’s supply chain tells a different story. Some of the tech giant’s largest suppliers, including iPhone assembly giant Foxconn, have made little progress on emissions reduction. Apple should not brand itself as a climate hero until its entire supply chain, including Foxconn, has achieved 100 percent renewable energy through high-impact sourcing methods. 

Apple and Foxconn are deeply intertwined. According to Bloomberg, more than half of Foxconn’s revenue comes from Apple. Yet while Apple has targeted 100 percent renewable energy across its supply chain by 2030, Foxconn’s renewable energy ratio was just 8 percent in 2022. The same year, Foxconn’s emissions exceeded those of Iceland.

Fortunately, there is a clear pathway for Apple’s supply chain to decarbonize. The first step is for suppliers to set ambitious targets for renewable energy use. Globally, a growing list of electronics manufacturers, including Sony and Intel, have pledged to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. As a leading electronics manufacturer, Foxconn has a responsibility to catch up.

Second, Foxconn should meet its renewable energy target through high-impact sourcing methods that directly add new renewable energy capacity to the grid. Effective strategies include signing of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), direct investment in renewable energy projects, and self-generation. All of these options are feasible in mainland China, where 88 percent of Foxconn’s electricity consumption takes place.

Some of Foxconn’s rivals have already made significant progress in their transition to clean energy by taking advantage of China’s green power trading system, which allows users to purchase power from renewable energy generators. In 2023, final assembly company Luxshare Precision signed contracts to purchase 650 GWh of renewable energy through green power trading, placing it among the three biggest corporate buyers of renewable energy in mainland China. 

Likewise, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s progress on renewable energy procurement can also serve as a case study for Foxconn. In 2022, Alibaba consumed roughly the same amount of electricity in mainland China as Foxconn. However, unlike Foxconn, Alibaba has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality across its operations by 2030. In 2023, Alibaba signed contracts to buy 1,610 GWh of renewable energy through China’s green power trading system, doubling its purchase of renewable energy compared to the year prior. Alibaba’s experience underscores that if a company shows willingness to increase its renewable energy ratio, procurement options are available.

As Foxconn expands globally, it is more important than ever that the company promotes renewable energy development. In May 2023, Foxconn held a ground-breaking ceremony for its new AirPod manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Hyderabad, India, where average concentrations of toxic PM2.5 air pollution exceed the World Health Organization guidelines by more than eightfold. Yet Foxconn has not publicly introduced plans for how it will meet new electricity demand with renewable energy. By contrast, as of November 2023, Amazon had committed to buy electricity from 50 wind and solar projects across the country.

As extreme weather intensifies, Foxconn too has felt the impact. In 2021, 380 people were reported dead or missing following record rainfall in Zhengzhou, China, home to Foxconn’s largest iPhone assembly plant. Weather reporters referred to the downpour as a “once in a millennium event,” according to the Financial Times. The flooding was a tragic reminder of how far we are from winning the climate battle.

In the face of climate disaster, Apple must support Foxconn and other suppliers to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. Apple has made progress on climate action, but a failure to adequately follow up on the climate commitments of its supply chain has consequences that extend far beyond the company’s sales figures. As the flooding in Zhengzhou shows us, much more action is needed before the climate battle is won.

Editor’s note: After publication, Foxconn responded with the following statement:

As a leader in the global electronics technology industry, Foxconn supports the goals of the Paris Agreement. In 2020, the Group pledged to achieve net-zero emissions in the value chain by 2050, a move that was welcomed by institutional investors and stewardship providers engaging with the company through the Climate Action 100+ initiative. The following year, it submitted its emission reduction pathway that puts it in line with a 1.5°C threshold to the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi); in 2023, Foxconn’s committed targets were validated (under formal name Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd): the Group commits to reduce absolute carbon emissions by 21% in 2025 and by 42% in 2030, from a 2020 base year.

Foxconn has set a goal for its renewable energy ratio to reach more than 50% in 2030. Through the continued investments in renewables, including the installation of self-built solar facilities in our operations, by November 2023, the Group’s renewable energy ratio has been increasing to more than 40%.

Foxconn implemented 1,877 energy-saving renovation projects in 2022, reducing carbon emissions in total by 306,204 tCO2e. In the future, in addition to continuing to promote low-carbon manufacturing, we will also build a green energy investment platform with green funds that invest in renewable energy infrastructure projects such as solar, wind and energy storage. This will increase the Group’s proportion of renewable energy use and go toward realizing our long-term, net zero goals.

Foxconn operates 205 manufacturing campuses/offices around the world and employs more than 1 million employees at seasonal peaks. As a very large multinational, Foxconn welcomes inspection and guidance from all walks of life and is willing to assume more responsibilities as a global citizen. In addition to using the power of innovation to promote healthy economic growth, we are also committed to sustainable environmental development and are deeply involved in the transformation and improvement of energy conservation and carbon reduction. This is Foxconn’s EPS+ESG sustainable management commitment.